11 Best Athletes Currently Under The Age Of 23
The other day, as I watched highlights of 22-year-old Steven Stamkos scoring his NHL-leading 50th goal of the season, I got to wondering: how many people can ever truly say that they’ve reached the very top of their profession, whatever that profession may be? And then I wondered, of those people who do reach the pinnacle of their profession, how many can say they did it by the age of 23?
Well, everyone on today’s list can say they did. That’s because, for today’s list, we bring you the 11 Best Athletes Under the Age of 23. Each one of these athletes has attained an inordinate amount of professional and financial success for their age, and each one undoubtedly has even greater success to come. And yes, Steven Stamkos is one of these athletes. Oviously. But where will he rank among the greatest young athletes in the world? You’ll have to read on to find out.
Trevor Bayne may have won the 2011 Daytona 500 when he was just 20 years old, getting everyone all excited about his prospects. But that’s looking more and more like a fluke. He didn’t even win the Rookie of the Year in 2011, and so far this year he’s not looking so hot.
If you’re looking for the hottest driver under 23, therefore, your man in Joey Logano. He was the youngest driver to ever win a Nationwide race (18 years, 21 days) and the youngest to ever win a Spring Cup race (19 years, 35 days). Last season he finished just outside the top 20 (24), and so far this year he’s hanging out in the top 10. Sure, there have only been 4 races, but the easiest way to finish in the top 10 is to start in the top 10.
So keep an eye out for #20 next week at California’s Auto Club Speedway.
11. Joey Logano
Spaniard Ricky Rubio has been on the NBA’s radar since he was 14 years old and he became the youngest player to join Spain’s premier professional basketball league. At 16 he became the youngest player to join the Euroleague, which is Europes highest level of pro ball. Finally, he was drafted in 2009 at the age of 18 by the Minnesota Timberwolves. So yeah, there’s been a lot of hype about this guy.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old’s rookie season was recently cut short by a nasty ACL injury (thanks, Kobe), but not before Rubio showed the whole league why he’s been so highly anticipated: he looks like a bearded John Stockton and dishes like Magic.
10. Ricky Rubio
Bryce Harper made the cover of Sports Illustrated in May of 2009...when he was 16 years old. That same year, he hit a 502 foot home run at Tropicana Field. So needless to say, people are expected big things from this 19-year-old. He quit school and did his GED after his sophomore year of high school so he could go play college baseball early. Then, after a season of college, he was drafted by the Nationals and headed to the minor leagues.
He figures to start the season in the minors, so the Nationals can get an extra year out of him before he hits free agency, but will almost certainly get a call up in June.
9. Bryce Harper
Last year, Victoria Azarenka made the quarterfinals of the French Open and the semifinals of Wimbeldon, so she was clearly on the rise. So far in 2012 the 22-year-old has continued her ascent, finally breaking through and winning the Australian Open for her first Grand Slam championship. The victory in Melbourne catapulted her to a #1 ranking. However, she turns 23 in July, so she probably won’t be able to climb any higher on the list of the world’s best U-23 athletes.
8. Victoria Azarenka
Germany’s Thomas Müller became an international star at the 2010 World Cup after helping lead Germany to a 3rd place finish and winning 2 of the tournament’s 5 individual awards: Best Young Player, and the prestigious Golden Boot at the tournament’s top scorer (5 goals, 3 assists).
By the way, the dude was just 20 years old at the time.
These days you’ll find the 22-year-old playing for some little team called Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. As a 21-year-old in 2010, Müller finished 15th in the voting for the FIFA Ballon d’Or (international soccer’s MVP award), and as a 22-year-old in 2011 he finished 13th. So while he’s no Lionel Messi (who finished 2nd when he was 20 and 1st when he was 22), being the 13th best player in the world by the age of 22 aint exactly chopped liver.
7. Thomas Müller
Cam Newton won the Heisman and a National Championship with Auburn, then was drafted #1 overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2011. In his very first game, the 22-year-old NFL quarterback threw for 422 yards and 2 TDs. Not bad, right? Oh, and he added a rushing TD, too. In Newton’s second game, he threw for 432 yards and 1 TD, plus another rushing TD.
Of course, the whole season didn’t go like this. There were definitely low points—like week 6 when he threw 3 interceptions and 0 TDs for a QB rating of just 44.6. But there were other highs, too—like the fact that he set a record for most rushing TDs by a QB in a single season (14). So, on the whole, this guy is showing a ridiculous amount of potential at only 22 years of age.
6. Cam Newton
Usually the hot young forwards like Jordan Eberle, John Tavares, Jeff Skinner, and Tyler Seguin get all the attention in the NHL. All are under 23, and all are fantastic talents. Hell, Jeff Skinner scores 30 goals last year as an 18-year-old, and Seguin is 2nd in plus/minus this year as a 20-year-old.
Still, in my opinion, the best hockey player under the age of 23 right now is Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson. Like Eberle and Tavares, he is scoring at a point-per-game clip this season. But unlike Eberle and Tavares, Karlsson is a freaking defenseman who has 19 goals, 52 assists, and will probably finish in the top 10 in scoring.
Do you know who the last defenseman to finish in the top 10 in scoring was? Paul Coffey.
Still need more reasons? How about this: Bobby Orr, the greatest defenseman of all time, is already comparing him to Coffey, Robinson, Potvin, and Bourque.
So yeah, Karlsson is one 21-year-old to keep your eye on.
5. Erik Karlsson
Caroline Wozniaki may not be the #1-ranked women’s tennis player right now, but the 21-year-old finished both the 2010 and 2011 seasons as the top player in the world. The only reason she’s not higher on the list is that she has yet to win a Grand Slam tournament. But, really, it’s only a matter of time.
Also, I should mention that her boyfriend is #2 on this list...
4. Caroline Wozniacki
Neymar is only 20 years old, but he’s been billed as the next great Brazilian soccer player for several years now. In the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup, even Brazilian legend Pele was chiding coach Dunga for not including the then-18 Neymar on the squad. And when Brazil lost in the quarterfinals, there was a lot of second guessing.
In any case, the kid is now starting to live up to all the hype. Right now he’s still playing club soccer in Brazil, but it probably won’t be long until he’s playing in England, Spain, Italy, or Germany alongside the rest of the world’s greatest players. In 2011, he finished 11th in voting for the FIFA Ballon d’Or, and he won the FIFA Puskas Award for scoring “the most beautiful goal” of the year. (As you may have guess, it’s the one Neymar scored in the above video.)
Ever since Tiger Woods’ fall from grace—and the World Golf Rankings—the sports world has been waiting and looking for a new golden boy. Now they have it in 22-year-old Rory McIlroy.
The kid finished 3rd at the 2010 British Open and 3rd at the PGA Championship in both 2009 and 2010. He finally broke through at a major in 2011 by winning the U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson, owner of three green jackets, didn’t win a major until he was 34 years old.
A victory at the Honda Classic this month briefly put McIlroy at the top of the World Golf Rakings for about a week. (He currently sits at #2.) So there are surely more big things to come for this dude.
2. Rory McIlroy
The other day, Steven Stamkos became just the 7th player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season twice before the age of 23. And this would have been his thirds straight 50-goal season if he didn’t have an off year in 2010-11, lighting the lamp “only” 45 times.
What’s most impressive about Stamkos, though, is that he’s putting up these numbers in an age when people don’t score like they used to. In the 7 seasons since the lockout (2005-present), there have been 16 50-goal seasons, and only once has someone score 65 goals (Ovechkin in 2007-08). In the 7 seasons from 1985-1992, there were a whopping 41 50-goal seasons, and an insane 10 65-goal seasons.
So 50 goals twice before the age of 23 in this era? That’s pretty damn special.